As published first in the Kendallville Mall:
Slightly Off the Mark
Unless you’re one of those people of questionable sanity who likes cold weather, October has little to offer Hoosiers except autumn colors and Halloween.
But by Halloween the leaves have usually fallen and the days are short. This gives me a feeling of bleakness and dread that … come to think of it, bleakness and dread are very Halloweenie.
But no matter how you feel about the weather (it stinks), Halloween is the beginning of snack season. Through Thanksgiving and Christmas and on to Valentine’s Day, we get to pack on a nice layer of fat against the cold.
It doesn’t really help. But what the heck, any excuse for chocolate.
As with most things, Halloween is more fun to kids. These days I’m expected to turn on my porch light and give candy to other people. I’d rather hide in the dark and let the dog scare off anyone who approaches. There’s a cocoa shortage, people—chocolate charity begins at home.
But when I was younger, it was one of the highlights of the year. In elementary school we’d spend October making decorations of ghosts, witches, and of course pumpkins with scary faces.
I wonder if that’s allowed, these days? They’ve probably banned that kind of stuff from public schools, along with cardboard pilgrims and anything Christmas. I liked the pilgrims, although even then I knew they’d be toast without Squanto and his corn crop (not that they had any toast).
Where was I? Oh yeah—candy. My family didn’t exactly hand out candy like candy … back then treats were, well, a treat. But on one glorious night we could collect enough candy to keep us going until Thanksgiving.
It wasn’t seen as a dangerous holiday, at the time. (This would be in the 70s. No, wait. Let’s change that to the 80s. Yeah, the 80s.) On the contrary, this was the night when it was quite literally okay to take candy from strangers.
Our dad would load us into the back of his El Camino for a trip to the store, which had highly flammable costumes and masks that rendered us mostly blind, then—
Oh, the El Camino? Well, it’s kind of a half car, half pickup truck. We didn’t worry about belting into the too-small front, because there were no seat belts.
Anyway, we waited until it got pitch dark and then hit the streets, methodically knocking on every door. Sometimes we’d get apples, which was not exactly a jump for joy moment. Packaged candy was okay, but the really nice people would make things from scratch, like those wonderful popcorn balls or caramel apples—which beat plain apples hands down.
The only glitch I remember is when we reached the home of a deaf old fellow who had no idea it was Halloween. He was probably the guy who later invented the idea of only trick or treating at homes with porch lights on. Or, maybe he was hoarding his chocolate.
Just as our parents passed out the last of their candy, we got home with more candy. It was important to eat the homemade stuff, like caramel apples and popcorn balls, first. If you weren’t too much of a glutton, you could string the rest along for weeks.
The times were so much less dangerous.
Now, some of you might be horrified by this. Some might smile at the exaggeration, then be horrified to discover it wasn’t an exaggeration: That’s the way it happened for some of us in the small towns of the mid-70s—I mean, 80s. This was a time when, if we did something stupid like walk in the middle of the street, our parents would get three phone calls and be standing at the front door by the time we made it home. When everyone knows everyone else, it’s not as dangerous as it sounds on paper.
We did know about the dangers, as shown in the very first short story I ever had published, in the late … 80s. It was about a hungry vampire who drinks his own blood after biting down on a razor blade inside a Halloween apple. If anyone still has that old copy of the Central Noble High School Cat Tracks, you’ll find the story to be very, very bad.
|As is sometimes necessary with marriage, my wife examines me for brains.|